Lead Story Local News West Edition

Compton measures fail to make November ballot

COMPTON — The City Council failed to place four ballot measures on the Nov. 3 ballot at the July 21 meeting, including one that would have added one cent to the city’s sales tax.

The board split 2-2 on the four measures, with Mayor Aja Brown and City Councilman Isaac Galvan voting in favor of the ballot measures going before voters and Councilwomen Janna Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux voting no.

Councilwoman Emma Sharif abstained on all four votes, leaving the council deadlocked and effectively killing the measures.

In addition to the sales tax increase, the measures called for:

• A cap on City Council salaries.

• Limiting the City Council to two meetings a month.

• And giving the mayor sole discretion over hiring and firing the city manager.

The one-cent sales tax increase would have boosted Compton’s sales tax from nine percent to 10 percent to ease the city’s “well-documented fiscal emergency” and provide funds for necessary street repairs and other infrastructure improvements.

“We polled the community,” Brown said. “Over 75 percent said they were willing to vote yes on … reforms I proposed to the council, reforms to allow voters to decide how they are willing to invest their taxpayer dollars.”

Zurita said she had not received the survey results.

“The information has not been shared with me,” she said. “To make a decision that reflects what my constituents would like to see, I would like to have interactive town hall meetings.”

Arceneaux said she had talked to an active outspoken resident who thought the sales tax proposal applied to property taxes.

“We have to educate the community on what it is,” she said. “We need to be clear, to revisit and sell it to the community.

“I am in complete support of a one percent sales tax [increase] for street repairs and street repairs only,” she added.  “The measure should have been centered on street maintenance and rehabilitation, which would have required two-thirds of voters support to pass.”

“The citizens may want to spend five cents to go toward repairing streets,” Zurita said, “but if you never ask or involve them, you don’t know what they’re willing to do or what their concerns are. I believe that if we said to repair streets, then we should focus on repairing streets.

“I drive these streets, but until management is accountable, then you can have more money, positions and resources, and still nothing gets done.”

Brown said the sales tax increase was necessary to repair streets throughout the city.

“Ninety percent of the roadways in the city are in disrepair,” she said. “The additional revenue would generate $7 million annually and create local jobs, and fund over $200 million in community reinvestment, including $100 million to repave every Compton street.

“It would create a street fund for ongoing maintenance and cover other fiscal and municipal infrastructure needs — street lighting, public safety and developing and refurbishing parks.

“The sales tax would have strengthened the city’s ability to provide critical services that the residents deserve,” Brown added.

Her proposal to give the mayor sole discretion in hiring and firing the city manager would have provided stability at City Hall. The city has had 17 city managers in the last 24 years, she said.

The proposal to limit the salaries of City Council members would have capped their salaries to the median income of city residents. Limiting council meetings to two a month also would have reduced council salaries and increased productivity, Brown said.

In most surrounding cities, the councils meet just twice a month, Brown said.

The measures were designed “to provide clear accountability for city governance and reform,” Brown said.

“As a policymaker, I was elected to recommend policies to move our city forward. I believe elected officials should be held accountable to perform,” she added.

Brown said, as of July 28, the Council is still considering the November ballot.  “If it declines to take immediate action to repave our streets, enhance our parks and improve public safety, I am prepared to lead a community-based effort for 2016.”

The July 21 meeting lasted six hours, with residents spending much of the time voicing their opinions on the proposed ballot measures.

Robert Ray said the city is not in a fiscal emergency.

“The charter is not broken and doesn’t need to be mended or amended,” he added.

Colene Davis was concerned about the lucrative buyouts paid to past city managers. She asked for “public discussion and advance notice of anything as important as changes to the city charter.”

Greg Pitts, a block club commissioner and president of the Compton Willow Walk Homeowners Association supported the one-cent sales tax increase.

“I am not a financial professional, but I do know people want repaved streets and certain levels of services from the city,” he said. “We have to have an additional stream of revenue.”